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A Soldier Who Refused to Torture

2010 September 17

Remembering Alyssa Peterson,a Soldier Who Refused to Torture

September 15, 2010, marked the seventh anniversary of the death by suicide of Alyssa Peterson, a young soldier who joined the Army with pride in her language skills and was assigned to participate in interrogations at the prison of Tal Afar Airbase in Northern Iraq. What she saw there disturbed her deeply. As reported by Peterson’s hometown public radio station, “Peterson objected to the interrogation techniques used on prisoners. She refused to participate after only two nights working in the unit known as the cage. Army spokespersons for her unit have refused to describe the interrogation techniques Alyssa objected to. They say all records of those techniques have now been destroyed.”
…..The Army kept a lid on this story for two years, and Peterson’s death was initially described as being from a “non-hostile weapons discharge.” According to Greg Mitchell’s Wednesday piece on Huffington Post (updating a post from last year):

“The official probe of her death would later note that earlier she had been “reprimanded” for showing ‘empathy’ for the prisoners. One of the most moving parts of the report, in fact, is this: ‘She said that she did not know how to be two people; she… could not be one person in the cage and another outside the wire.’
…….“She was then assigned to the base gate…and sent to suicide prevention training. ‘But on the night of September 15th, 2003, Army investigators concluded, she shot and killed herself with her service rifle.’ …The official report revealed that a notebook she had written in was found next to her body, but blacked out its contents.” 

Suicides among our troops in Iraq are at record levels. How many might be among soldiers involved in interrogations? Mitchell interviewed another trooper, Kayla Williams, who now reflects,

“What are we as humans, that we do this to each other? It made me question my humanity and the humanity of all Americans. It was difficult, and to this day I can no longer think I am a really good person and will do the right thing in the right situation.” 

Peterson trained as an interrogator at the Army’s Fort Huachuca, near Tucson, Arizona. A Tucson organization, Southwest Weekend of Witness, holds an annual protest vigil outside Huachuca’s gates. It’s timed to coincide with the School of the Americas Watch vigil at Fort Benning, Georgia.


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